CTW Conference Part 3: The Fall of the White Evangelical?
The first day of the conference exceeded my expectations far beyond what I could have imagined, and I could hardly sleep that night in anticipation of another full day of sessions with my fellow believers in Christ.
Friday morning kicked off to a great start with professor Diana Butler Bass, who has written eight books and specializes in teaching about American religion and culture. Her keynote, titled “New Spiritual Awakening or Big Religious Bust?”, was about the culture shifts in these present days and how white evangelicals, who have enjoyed influence in both the cultural and religious spheres for as long as our country has been a nation, are beginning to lose that hold on our culture.
Diana began her talk with a metaphor (in fact, she used a lot of very interesting and practical metaphors!). She talked about the differences between weather and climate: weather is temporal. You can go outside and observe it, and anyone can tell you what the weather is like at any particular moment. But it also changes quickly, and an ordinary layperson can’t predict it.
Climate, however, is quite different. It is steady, and it is a macro-cosmic description of weather patterns over a long period of time, all of which are predictable and testable via statistics. Sometimes, though quite rarely, the climate of a particular area can change.
Right now, Diana contended, we are in the midst of a climate change. The Church is transforming from one way of believing to another, and we are right in the midst of it.
One of the ways she illustrated this climate change is by describing the voting demographics for the 2012 presidential election. The graph she showed us broke voters down into eight religious categories: unaffiliated, white evangelical, white mainline, white Catholic, Hispanic catholic, black protestant, other Christian, and non-Christian religious.
She went into detail explaining the logistics of this, but basically Diana’s main point in showing us the graph was to point out that white evangelicals had comprised 40% of Mitt Romney’s vote, and only 10% of Obama’s. Yet for Obama, a whopping 25% of his voters identified as unaffiliated.
It was the first time in history that a candidate has won the white evangelical vote and lost the election.
White evangelicals are losing the political influence they have enjoyed since the founding of the United States, and they are being superseded by voters who may or many not be followers of Jesus, but for whatever reason have chosen to identify as unaffiliated. According to Diana, this is a huge shift.
She showed us a few other statistics about how people choose to label themselves, and revealed that more Americans today than ever before choose not to affiliate with institutionalized religion, preferring the term “spiritual” as often as they identify as “religious” (almost half of all Americans identify as both). She concluded that this is not something that we should deem a threat to protect ourselves from, but rather as an indication that the presence of God is here, and it is “moving with the beat of the world in a new way.”